In the last two weeks alone, with Pitt coming off a significant win over Louisville, heading into a tough game at UConn, a lot of Pitt players are crediting each other for their own big plays. That was pretty evident among the defensive players, following the Louisville game.
Some of the scout team players are drawing just as much praise. Last week, Pitt had to face the challenge of Bilal Powell, who was the Big East's leading rusher entering the game. Pitt held him to 64 yards on 11 carries, before he exited the game with an injury.
"We get good looks from Chris Burns, and the younger guys, and then we see Dion (Lewis) and Ray (Graham) every day," safety Dom DeCicco said, entering the game. "We see great running backs. We just have to be ready to tackle."
Burns has played in all eight games this season, and has taken snaps at running back in the fourth quarter of each of the last three wins.
Mike Cruz--whose progression as a dual threat tight end (blocking, pass catching) has improved every week--credited the scout team for his progression, following the win over Louisville. Cruz converted two third downs--something the offense has struggled with this year--and also came up with some key blocks against Louisville.
"I have to give credit to (the scout team)," Cruz said. "They come out and they make the game easy. They work their behinds off, and they go hard every snap. I'd just like to give credit to them."
He even went on to say that a redshirt freshman defensive end has given him problems--one that he's usually lined up against every time the scout team is in practice.
"Bernardo Nunez, he's a great player," Cruz said. "His motor's running at all times--it's running hard and fast. Not only him, the whole eleven guys in the blue shirts, just going out there and helping the team win, and showing us great looks, and giving us the opportunity to make the game easy."
Consider the fact that offensive lineman Chris Jacobson and Jordan Gibbs are in their first year starting on the offensive line. Ironically, both players lined up next to each other--Gibbs at left tackle, and Jacobson at left guard, as backups in each of the last two years--on the offensive scout team as well. They've come up through the ranks together.
"(Jacobson) actually helped me when we were second team," Gibbs said. "He comes off the ball faster than I do, so I had to practice getting off the ball faster. It helped a lot for when I got in there (as a starter) now."
As full-time starters, both players are finding that members of the defensive scout team are giving them fits. Though Jacobson has been the starter at left guard in all eight games, Gibbs has been the starter in the last five. Before the change was made in the offensive line, the offense was averaging 3.8 yards a carry on the ground and allowing a sack once every 9.8 passing attempts. Since the switch--which included moving Lucas Nix inside to right guard--the running game is averaging 4.9 yards a carry, and only allowing a sack once every 30 passing attempts.
Both Jacobson and Gibbs agreed the scout team defense has played a role in the increased success of the offensive line.
"Ty Ezell is a bull in there," Gibbs said. "He gives a good effort every day. I usually go against Shayne (Hale) more. He gives a great effort every time."
Even though Jacobson lines up more against Ezell and sometimes Ty Tkach, Jacobson has noticed Hale a lot, too.
"Ty Ezell does a great job," Jacobson said. "I would say he's one of the hardest guys to block, too. Ty Tkach too--he does a great job. Same with Shayne Hale. Shayne's really strong. They throw (T.J.) Clemmings in there. He's a tall dude, but he's strong too; for a freshman."
And, as far as scout team offensive linemen, who is working their way up?
"I would say (Matt) Rotherham is doing well," Jacobson said. "Coach Wise shows film of him sometimes. He goes down there and gets after it along with Brandon Sacco, who does a great job. (Sacco) is a great player and he's being coachable."